Languages & Nations
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Contributed by CinnamonMoon
From: American Indian Myths and Legends
By Richard Erodoes and Alfonso Ortiz
Acoma is, along with the Hopi town of Oraibi, the oldest inhabited
settlement in the United States; it was already well established
when the Spaniards first saw it in 1540. The ancient pueblo,
known as the Sky City, is spectacularly situated like a medieveal
fortress atop its 600-foot-high rock, halfway between the Gallup
and Albuquerque in New Mexico. In the midst of the village stands
the seventeenth-century Church of San Esteban with its wonderful
polychrome altar, one of the great architectural treasures of
the Southwest. Now known for it's beautiful Pottery
The Aleuts' name derives from the Chukchi word 'aliat', meaning
"island" or "islanders." They call themselves
Unung'un, the People. The Aleuts are a branch of the Inuit family,
with whom they share common ancestors and also vocabulary. They
occupy the chain of islands forming the "bridge" between
Siberia and Alaska over which man first came to the Western
Hemisphere tens of thousands of years ago. The Aleuts fish and
hunt in kayaks.
The Alogonquians (or Algonkins), are possibly the largest group
of linguistically related tribes in North America, scattered
over the whole continent from the Atlantic to the Rocky Mountains.
They include the Algonkin of Ottawa proper, the Cheyenne, Arapaho,
Ojibway, Sac and Fox, Pottawatomi, Illinois, Miami, Kickapoo,
and Shawnee. However, if an Indian legend is said to be of Algonkin
origin, it generally means that it comes from an East Coast
tribe, such as the Pequod, Mohegan, Delaware, Abnaki, or Micmac.
The Alsea were a small tribe of Yakonan Indians from western
Oregon. Once numerous, by 1906 they were reduced to about a
dozen individuals who took refuge among the Siletz tribe, which
has since disappeared also. Their vestiges have been absorbed
by a number of other Oregon tribes.
The name Apache comes from the Zuni word 'apachu,' meaning "enemy."
Their own name for themselves is N'de or Dineh, the People.
In the early 1500's, a group of Athapascan-speaking people drifted
down from their original home in western Canada into what is
now Arizona, New Mexico, and the four-corners area. They were
split into smaller tribes and bands, including the Lipan, the
Jicarilla (from the Spanish for "little basket," referring
to their pitch-lined drinking cups), Chiricahua, Tonto, Mescalero,
and White Mountain Apaches.
The Apache were a nomadic people and lived in conical brush
shelters (wicki-ups) to which they often attached a ramada--four
upright poles roofed over with branches. They hunted and gathered
wild plants; much later they also began to plant corn and squash.
They usually dressed in deerskin
and wore their hair long and loose, held by a headband. Men
also wore long, flapping breechcloths. Their soft, thigh-high
moccasins were important in land of chaparral, thorns, and cacti,
since they were primarily runners of incredible stamina rather
than riders (though they acquired horsese early and were excellent
horsemen). Their main weapon was the bow, and it was used long
after they had guns.
Apache women wove particularly striking
baskets, some made so tightly that a needle could not be inserted
between their coils. They carried their babies on cradleboards.
Women played an important role in family affairs; they could
own property and become medicine women.
The Lipan Apache at first kept peace
with the whites, whom they encountered in the sixteenth century.
Fierce nomadic raiders, the Lipans roamed west Texas and much
of New Mexico east of the Rio Grande, and eventually became
the scourge of miners and settlers, particularly in Mexico.
great chiefs included Cochise and Mangus Colorado, as well as
Goyathlay, the One Who Yawns, better known as Geronimo. Apache
attacks on whites were not unprovoked, for these tribes had
often been victims of treachery, broken agreements, and massacres
by white Americans and Mexicans. They were not finally subdued
until the 1880's.
The Jicarillas, now numbering 1,500
to 2,000, live on a 750,000 acre reservation high in the mountains
of northern New Mexico.
The White Mountain Apaches (also
called Sierra Blancas or Coyoteros) live in Arizona and New
Mexico, including about 6,000 on the 1,600,000 acre Fort Apache
Reservation in Arizona.
In 1905, there were only 25 Lipan
survivors left, and they were eventually placed on the Mescalero
Athapascan refers to a language group, and it represents the
most far-flung of the original North American tongues. Athapascan
dialects or related languages are spoken by people in the interior
of what is now Alaska, on the western coast of Canada, among
some tribes in northern California, and by the Navajo and Apache
of New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah.
The Blackfoot people were really three closely allied Algonquian
tribes--the Siksikas, or Blackfoot proper; the Bloods; and the
Piegans. Siksikas means Black-footed People, and they may at
one time have worn black moccasins. The Bloods probably got
their name from the vermilion color of their face paint. Piegan
means People with Poor or Badly Dressed Robes. These tribes
drifted down from Canada into what is now Montana, driving the
Kootenay and shoshoni before them. They were much feared by
early white trappers and fur traders, because they killed all
white men who entered their hunting grounds in search of beaver.
Though they inhabited the northern edge of the buffalo range,
the Blackfoot tribes lived in tipis and hunted bison like other
Plains Indians. The Piegans' main ceremonials were the Sun Dance
and the All Comrades festival held by the warrior societies.
About 7,000 Blackfoot, 2,100 Piegans,
and 2,000 Bloods now live on the Blackfoot reservation at Browning,
Montana, at the southern edge of Glacier National Park, and
some have joined the Piegan Agency in Alberta, Canada.
The Brules belong to the Oceti Shakowin--the seven council fires
of the Lakota or Teton-wan, the seven Western Sioux tribes.
Their name comes from the French word 'brule' -- "burned."
The Brules are very traditional people, maintaining their old
customs and rituals, including the Sun Dance, flesh offerings,
the sweat-lodge ceremony, the vision quest, and the co-called
tyuwipi ceremonies. Many Brules belong to the Native American
Church, which follows the peyote cult. Today they occupy the
Lower Brule, a reservation in mid South Dakota.
The Caddo belonged to a confederacy of tribes of the Caddoan
language family, whose southern members were the Caddo proper,
the Wichita, and the Kichai. It's northern representatives were
the Arikara and Pawnees. Mostly sedentary planters, the Caddo,
as well as the Wichita, lived in large dome-shaped, thatched
grass huts, which were first mentioned by members of Coronado's
expedition. Caddoans were once scattered throughout Oklahoma,
the Red River area of Arkansas, and northern Texas.
About 500 surviving Caddos were
eventually settled with the Wichitas in Indian Territory (now
The name Cherokee probably comes from 'chiluk-ki', the Chocktaw
word meaning Cave People. The Cherokee are one of the so-called
Five Civilized Tribes, a term which first occurs in 1876 in
reports of the Indian Office; these tribes had their own constitutional
governments, modeled on that of the United States, the expenses
of which were paid out of their own communal funds. They also
farmed after the manner of their white neighbors.
Wealth and fertile land were the
Cherokees' undoing. Under the "Indian removal" policy
of Andrew Jackson and Van Buren, troops commanded by General
Winfield Scott drove the Indians out of their ancestral lands
so that white settlers could occupy them. Herded into so-called
Indian Territory west of the Mississippit, one third of those
removed perished on the march, remembered by them as the infamous
Trail of Tears.
Most Cherokees now live in Oklahoma,
though a small number managed to stay behind. Their population
has increased to about 7,000 living people, living on about
56,000 acres on the Cherokee Reservation in North Carolina.
The name Cheyenne derives from the French 'chien', "dog,"
because of their ritual dog eating. The Cheyenne call themselves
Tis-Tsis-Tas, the People. They are an Algonquian Plains tribe
that came to the praries from the Great Lakes region some two
to three hundred years ago. They lived in tipis and were buffalo
hunters, great horsemen, and brave warriors. They were closely
allied with the Western Sioux
tribes and fought with them at the Little Bighorn against Custer.
Forced after the last battles into
a malaria-infested part of the Indian Territory, one group under
Dull Knife and Little Wolf made a heroic march back to their
old hunting grounds, eventually settling on the Lame Deer Reservation
Another part of the tribe, the southern
Cheyenne, remained in Oklahoma.
The Chinook lived near the Columbia River in what is now Washington
state. They were met and described by Lewis and Clark in 1805,
and their trade jargon o lingua franca was widely used throughout
the Northwest. Such words as "potlatch" and "hooch"
are derived from it.
Cochiti is a Kersean-speaking pueblo situated on the Rio Grande
south of Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Cochiti moved to their present
reservation from their original home in Frijoles Canyon, now
Bandelier National Monument, in New Mexico, and ruins of their
old villages can be found on nearby Cochiti Mesa. The population
in 1970 was around 500. Farming, jewelry making, and pottery
making are important economic activities.
Cochiti is the home of Helen Cordero,
the internationally known ceramist, whose pottery group called
"Storyteller," a jolly ceramic figure surrounded by
clinging children, is prized by collectors and widely imitated.
The Coos tribe, for whom Coos Bay in Oregon was named, are now
almost entirely assimilated into the surrounding culture. They
once occu0pied the Pacific coastal lands of Oregon.
The Cree Indians, an Algonquian tribe sometimes called Knisteneau,
were essentiall forest people, though an offshoot, the so-called
Plains Cree, were buffalo hunters. They lived mostly in Canada,
but a few are now sharing reservations with other tribes in
North Dakota. They were first encountered by the French Jesuits
in 1640, lost their people in a smallpox epidemic in 1776, fought
many battles with the Sioux, and suffered a great defeat at
the hands of the Blackfeet in 1870. The Cree lived by hunting,
fishing, and trapping. Muskrat meat was one of their staples.
According to Denig, who lived among them in the 1850's, they
made sacrifices to the sun, the Great Master of Life.
The Crow were a typical Plains tribe of hard-riding buffalo
hunters. They split off from the Hidatsa tribe at some time
during the second half of the eighteenth century, some say over
a quarrel about buffalo meat; others say as a result of rivalry
between two chiefs. The Crow later divided into two bands: the
River and the Mountain Crows.
Once semisedentary corn planters
who lived in earth huts and whose women practiced the art of
pottery, the Crow had already reverted to nomadic hunting people
when they were first encountered
by whites. This change probably resulted from the acquisition
of the horse and gun, both of which made the nomadic way of
life easy and glorious.
Like other Indians of the Plains,
they lived in tipis, reputedly, theirs were the largest of all
tribes. They were fierce fighters and skilled at the universal
sport of intertribal horse stealing. The Crows were generally
friendly to the whites and furnished scouts for the Indian-fighting
The Crows now live on their reservation
in Montana, not far from the Custer Battlefield.
The Flatheads are a Salishan tribe encountered by Lewis and
Clark in 1805. Their ancestral home was the Bitterroot Valley
in Montana, but they did not resist their removal to their present
reservation in Montana, where they were absorbed by the related
Salish and Kootenay tribes. Though they lived on the edge of
Plains Indian culture, the paintings of Father Nicolas Point,
who was in charge of their Catholic mission in the 1840's, show
them dressed and hunting buffalo like typuical Plains Indians,
except that some men wear stovepipe hats bestowed upon them
by the whites. Contrary to popular belief, the Flatheads did
not artificially flatten their foreheads.
The Haida (Xa-ida --the People) live on Queen Charlotte Island
off the coast of British Columbia. The first European to visit
them was Juan Perez, who arrived in 1774 in the Spanish corvette
Santiago, followed in 1786 by the famous French explorer La
Perouse. Contact with Europeans, as usual in most cases, was
catastrophic for the Haida, bringing them impoverishment, smallpox
epidemics, and venereal diseases. The Haida were great hunters
of whales and sea otters. Canoes were to them, as one visitor
remarked, what horses were to the Plains Indians. Their sometimes
very large fessels were hollowed out of single huge cedar trunks.
The Haida are best known as totem-pole carvers and as the builders
of large, decorated wooden houses. Their gifted artists are
still turning out splendid masks and other carved objects.
Hopi land is an enclave within the much larger Navajo Reservation
in Arizona. Their name, Hopitu-shinumu, means Peaceful People,
and throughout their history they have lived up to it. They
belong to the Uto-Aztecan language family, though the Hopi in
the village of Hano, curiously enough, speak Tewa. The founders
of Hano were Rio Grande Pueblos fleeing their ancient home under
Spanish pressure to skeek a refuge among the Peaceful Ones.
The Spaniards made periodic attempts to Christianize the Hopis
and fought several battles with them, but eventually left their
pueblos alone. They were alos the westernmost of the pueblos
and therefore hundreds of miles from the center of Spanish power--and
intrusion. The Hopis have been planters of corn since time immemorial,
skillfully coaxing their crops to thrive even in desert sands.
In the traditional partition of labor, the women made pottery
and wove beautiful baskets, while men did the weaving and hunting.
The Inuit are the native inhabitants of Greenland and the North
American subartic regions. The more familiar name Eskimo, meaning
"those who eat their food raw," was actually a term
used by neighboring Indians. The Inuit are hunters who chased
seals, walrus, caribou, and an occasional polar bear. On land
they move with the help of dogsleds; on the water they use their
kayaks and umiaks, open boats made with wooden frames and skins.
While they can still build igloos
when and if they have to, today most live in European-style
houses with electricity and other modern conveniences.
Today the Inuit live all through
the Arctic, with major settlements in Alaska, Greenland, and
northern Canada, and a few have crossed the Bering Strait and
settled in Siberia.
The name Iroquois, meaning "real adders," is of Algonquian
origin. The Iroquois referred to themselves as "We Who
Are of the Extended Lodge." They are not a tribal group
at all, but an alliance of tribes that dominated the vast area
stretching from the Atlantic Coast to Lake Erie, and from Ontario
down to North Carolina. According to tradition their league
was formed about 1570 by the efforts of Hiawatha, a Mohawk (not
to be confused with Longfellow's romantic hero), and his disciple,
Dekanawida, a Huron by birth. The original Five Nations confederacy
was made up of the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Senica
tribes which before that time had often been at war with each
other. In 1715 the Tuscarora joined the league, and from that
time the Iroquois have been known as the Six Nations. The league
fromed a democratic tribal republic with councils of elected
delegates. Chiefs were elected from nominations by the tribes
matrons, and acted with the consent and cooperation of the women
of child-bearing age.
Isleta is the southernmost pueblo, situated about twelve miles
south of Albuquerque. Approximately 2,000 Isletans occupy their
reservation of some 211,000 acres. The Franciscans established
a monastery at Isleta as early as 1629. In 1681 Spaniards commanded
by Govenor Otermin destroyed Isleta as a punishment for having
taken part in the Great Pueblo Revolt. The village was rebuilt
and resettled early in the eighteenth century by Tiwa Indians
who had taken sanctuary among the Hopis. The people of Isleta
speak Tiwa, in the Kiowa-Tanoan linguistic family. A government
report of the 1890's calls Isletas industrious farmers who raise
cattle and maintain large vineyards; they probably learned to
cultivate grapes, a rare activity among Indians, from the Franciscan
monks who came from California.
The Kalapuya were a group of tribes who once occupied the Willamette
Valley in northwestern Oregon and practiced a mild form of slavery.
Marriage was arranged by purchase. The Kalapuya also flattened
the fronts of their heas by "fronto-optical pressure."
In 1824 their population was decimated by epidemics introduced
by the whites.
The Karok (from karuk--"upstream")
called themselves Arra-Arra, meanig Men or Humans. A tribe of
salmon fishers, they lived along the Klamath River between more
numerous Yurok bleow and the Shasta above them. Due to the absence
of redwood in their own area, they made no canoes but bought
them from the Yurok. Their culture closely resembled that of
their Hupa and Yurok neighbors.
The Kwakiutl are a tribe of Indians which, with the Nootka,
belonged to the Wakashan language group. Kwakiutl, according
to some linguists, means "beach at the north side of the
river," though some tirbal elders translate it as "smoke
of the rivers." They are located on Vancouver Island and
along the coast of Briish Columbia. The Kwakiutl used to live
in large painted houses decorated with carvings, and their elaborate
totem poles and masks are famous. They fished and went to war
in huge canoes often painted and decorated with carved prow
figures. They gave solemn potlatch feasts, during which a slave
was sometimes clubbed to death with an ornamental "slave
killer" to show the owners contempt for property. They
waged war for prestige as well as to capture slaves. The Kwakiutl
had secret societies, such as the Cannibal society, whose members
were supposed to have power from the Cannibal Spirit of the
North and who put on a spectacular--and strictly ceremonial--cannibal
Today the Kwakiutl fish with modern
boats and equipment; they also work in canneries and the timber
industry in British Columbia.
The Lumni are a Salishan tribe of northwestern Washington. Their
culture was that of a typical coastal tribe: salmon was their
main food, and their ceremonies revolved around salmon and fishing.
The women made fine baskets and were renowned for their special
dog-hair blankets. The Lumni fought annual ceremonial battles
with the Haida for the purpose of capturing slaves. These encounters
are still remembered in the yearly stommish, or "warrior,"
ceremony which includes canoe racing, dancing, and a salmon
steak barbecue. Some 700 Lumnis and related Nooksacks now live
on the 7,000 acre Reservation with headquarters at Bellingham,
The Maidu are a northern California tribe, now living above
the San Francisco Bay Area. They are known particularly for
their exquisite basketry.
The name Maliseet or Malecite comes from the Micmac words :malisit,
"broken talkers," or mahnesheets, "slow talkers."
An Algonquian family, the Maliseet were part of the loosely
knit Abnaki confederation of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and
Maine. Linguistically they were closely related to the Passamaquoddy.
Champlain met them in 1604 and wrote:
"When we were seated they began to smoke, as was their
custom, before making any discourse. They made us presents of
game and venison. All that day and the following night they
continued to sing, dance, and
feast until day reappeared. They were clothed in beaver skins."
By 1904 the Maliseet were reduced
to about 800 people in New Brunswick and Quebec provinces, Canada.
The Metis, who are part French and part Indian, live in Canada.
Their name comes from the French metis, "mixed." The
Ojibway called them wissakode-winini, "burned trees"
or "half-burned wood man," alluding to their part-light,
part-dark complexions. Some Metis have adopted Indian customs
and speak a patois made up of native, French, and English words.
Some consider themselves white Canadians; others proudly call
themselves Metis and stress their Indian ancestry. Their tales
show marked European influences.
Micmac comes from migmak or nigmak, meaning "allies."
The Micmac are a large Algonquian trive of Nova Scotia, Cape
Breton Island, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick. They
were first visited by Cabot in 1497; in fact, the three Indians
he took back to England were probably Micmacs. The Micmacs were
expert canoeists and fishermen. Fierce and warlike, they sided
with the French during the French and Indian Wars.
The Miwok, whose name means Man, were a central California tribe
of Penutian stock, living between what is now the modern city
of Fresno and the Sierras. They ate nuts, acorns, even grasshoppers;
fished; and hunted deer and rabbit. They lived in conical houses
made of ples, and their women used communal, many-holed grinding
stones to make meal from seeds, nuts, and acorns. Their mystery
ceremony was the kuksyu dance, in which the participants wore
feathered headdresses. The Miwok had a rich mythology and, before
the gold rush, were a large tribe occupying 100 villages. They
are now practically extinct.
The Modoc, meaning "southerners," are Penutian stock
and speak a language nearly identical with that of the Klamath
tribe. They lived around the lower Klamath Lake in southwestern
Oregon and fought hard and long with the government tried to
force them onto reservations. Let by Chief Kintpuash, called
Captain Jack by whites, they holed up in the Lava Beds, a region
of basalt rocks, deep crevasses, and many caves, in the co-called
Modoc War of 1872-1873. They defended themselves for months
against thousands of soldiers equipped with cannon. After their
surrender, the Modoc leaders were hanged, supposedly for killing
two members of a U.S. peace mission. Part of the tribe was removed
to the Indian Territory in Oklahoma; others were settled on
the Klamath Reservation, where a few hundred survive to this
The Mojave (or Mohave) form the most numerous and warlike of
the Yuman tribes living on both sides of the Colorado River.
Described by early travelers as handsome, athletic, and brave,
they cultivated corn, squash, pumpkins, beans and melons; gathered
pinon nuts; and caught fish. They used to paint and tattoo their
bodies, and they cremated their dead. They lived in scattered
four-sided stick, brush, and mud dwellings and stored their
gain in sylindrical flat roofed structures. At first they welcomed
the Spaniards, but later resisted fiercely when the invaders
tried to force the white man's way of life upon them. The Mojaves
and their cousins, the Chemehuvis, now share the Colorado River
Reservation in Arizona, roughly 270,000 acres supporting slightly
less than 2,000 people.
The Multnomah tribe occupied what is now western Oregon, near
Portland, and the few remaining members have been almost entirely
assimilated into the white cultures which surround them.
The Navajo are an Athapascan tribe that drifted down from northwestern
Canada into the Southwest around 1300. They call themselves
Dineh, the People, as do their linguistic cousins in Canada
and Alaska, from whom they are separated by some 1,500 miles.
fierce, skin-clad, nomadic raiders, they terrorized the sedentary
corn-planting tribes of the Southwest.
The Pueblos called them apachu, meaning
"enemy-strangers." This led to the mixed Tewa and
Spanish "Apaches de Nabahu," which ultimately became
Navajo. The Navajos adopted many cultural prctices from their
Pueblo neighbors, such as masked dances (yebichai), basketry,
and pottery. They became fine silversmiths, learning the craft
from the Spaniards, just as they learned weaving from the Pueblos.
During the mid-nineteenth century they began making jewelry
and weaving rugs; their simple cheif's blankets have evolved
into the well-known Navajo rugs of today.
With a population of over 130,000,
the Navajo are the largest tribe in the United States. Their
reservation extends over 200 miles of New Mexico and Arizona,
from the Gallup area all the way to the Grand Canyon, and contains
such natural wonders ad Moument Valley and Canyon de Chelly,
as well as large coal and oil deposits. Navajos are a comparatively
wealthy nation; they farm and raise large herds of sheep, as
well as some cattle.
The women still wear their traditional
costume--velveteen blouses, colorful ankle-length skirts, and
silver and turquoise necklaces. Their traditional home is the
hogan, a low, dome-shaped structure of mud-covered logs with
a smoke hole at the top.
The Nez Perces (French for "pierced noses") got this
name from their custom of wearing a piece of dentalium shell
through their septum. they belonged to the seminomadic Plateau
culture, roaming over the dry, high country of Idaho, eastern
Oregon, and eastern Washington. They were known for their trading
acumen, their bravery and generosity, their skill in breeding
the famous Appaloosa horse, and the fine basketry of their women.
They were consistently friendly to the whites. A large tribe
of the Shahaptian language family, they lived in large communal
houses containing several families. Unjustly driven from their
beloved Wallowa Valley, they fought fiercely and skillfully
during the Nez Pierce War of 1877 under their great leader,
Chief Joseph, who won the admiration even of his enemies by
his courage and humanity in conducting this war. Today some
1,500 members of the tribe live on the 88,000 acre Nez Perce
Reservation with headquarters in Lapwai, Idaho.
The Ojibway, or as the whites misname them, the Chippewa, are
an Algonquian tribe living today on a number of reservations,
mainly in Minnesota. They migrated from the East late in the
sixteenth or early in the seventeenth century. They were usually
allied with the French, swapping beaver and other pelts for
firearms, which they used to drive the Sioux to the West. The
Ojibway took part in Pontiac's uprising, and by 1851 white settlers
had pushed them beyond the Mississippi. Their most valuable
food plant is wild rice. Their culture hero is Manabozho, the
Great Rabbit, whose deeds they depict on bark paintings.
The Okanogan (or Okinagan) were a small Salishan tribe of seminomadic
plateau people who were scattered over the high country of Idaho,
western Oregon, and eastern Washington. They were grouped in
small, roving bands of hunters, fishermen, and gatherers of
cama roots, wild seeds, and berries. Like many Salishans, they
were good basket makers. In 1906 there were some 525 Okanogans
left in Washington state and a further 825 in British Columbia.
Today about 3,000 people, descendants of related tribes, live
on the Colville REservation in Washington, among them the former
The Oneida--the People of the Rock--are one of the original
Five Nations of the Iroquois league. Like other Iroquois, they
live in longhouses occupied by several families and owned by
women. They traced their descent through the mother. The tribe
originally lived near Onedia Lake in New York but, under pressure,
sold their ancestral lands and oved to Wisconsin in 1838. Unlike
other Iroquois tribes, the Onedia at first stayed neutral and
eventually joined the Tuscarora as the only Iroquois nations
siding with the Americans against the British in the Revolutionary
War. Today roughly 1,800 people reside on the Onedia Reservation
The Osage, or Wazhazhe, are Plains Indians of the Siouan language
group. Their original villages were situated in Kansas, Missouri,
and Illionis. According to their legends, they originated in
the sky and descended through four layers of sky until they
alighted on seven rocks of different colors near a red oak tree.
Later the people received four kinds of corn and four kinds
of pumpkin seeds which fell from the left hind legs of four
buffalo. The tribe was divided into gentes, which monopolized
certain tasks, such as making moccasins, pipes, war standards,
or arrowheads. One gente furnished heralds (camp criers) to
the tribe. The Osage were eventually removed to Indian Territory
in Oklahoma, where they now live.
The Oto, also called Otoe and Wat'ota, are a Siouan tribe, probably
an offshoot of the Winnebago, from whom they are said to have
separated at Green Bay, Wisconsin, as they wantered westward
in pursuit of buffalo. This group later split further into three
closely related tribes--the Oto proper, the Iowa, and the Missouri.
Marquette knew of them, and Le Sueur met them in 1700 near Blue
Earth River in what is now northwest Minnesota. They lived in
earth lodges, though they used skin tipis when traveling or
hunting. They were rudimentary farmers but avid buffalo hunters,
and they early adopted Plains Indian culture. In 1882 the last
remnants of the tribe left Nebraska, where they had been living
along the Platte River, and settled in Oklahoma.
The Papago--the Bean People--are a Southwestern tribe closely
related to the Pima. They are probably descendants of the ancient
Hohokam. The Papago are an agricultural people who irrigate
by flooding. Though frugal and peaceful, they could be tough
when attacked, and they defended themselves stoutly against
raiding bands of Apaches. Papago women are renowned for their
wonderful baskets woven from yucca fiber. Their traditional
houses were round, dome-shaped, and flat topped, 12 to 20 feet
in diameter, and usually had a brush shelter (ramada) attached.
They now live on a four-part reservation
of almost three million acres in Arizona. Some offshoots of
the tribe also live in Sonora, Mexico.
The name Passamaquoddy comes from peskede makadi, meaning "plenty
of pollok" (a species of herring). They are a tribe of
forest hunters and fishermen speaking a coastal Algonquian dialect.
They were experts at canoeing, fishing, and trapping and lived
in conical wigwams covered with birch bark or woven mats. Several
families often shared one dwelling. They belonged to the larger
Abnaki confederation, an alliance of Northeast woodlands tribes
that also included the Penobscot and Maliseet.
Some 600 Passamaquoddy now live on
the Pleasant Point and Indian Township Reservations in Washington
The Pawnees, members of the large Caddoan family, were a federation
of tribes living near the Platte River in what is now Nebraska.
They were semisedentary , lived in earth lodges, planted corn,
and hunted buffalo and other game. Their tribal name comes from
pariki, meaning "horns," probably because they used
to dress their hair in a horn-like coil stiffened with grease.
Their own name for themselves was Men of Men. Their chief deity
was Tirawa Atius, the Creator, who "threw down from the
sky to the human beings everything they needed." Hereditary
keepers maintained their sacred bundles, and they had secret
societies related to supernatural animal spirits. The Pawnees,
who once numbered 25,000, lost half their population due to
cholera between 1840 and 1850, owing to contact with westbound
settlers taking the Platte River Trail. By the end of the century
their numbers had dropped to a few hundred. Though any Pawnees
had served the U.S. Army faithfully as scouts during the Indian
Plains wars, they shared the fate of many other tries, being
removed in 1876 to Oklahoma, where they settled with the Ponca
The name Penobscot means Rockland or It Flows on the rocks,
alluding to a waterfall near their village of Old Town, Maine,
a few miles above Bangor. The Penobscot are a once-powerful
New England tribe of Algonquian stock. They belong to the Abnaki
confederation, which included such tribes as the Malecites and
Passamquoddies. They made canoes, fishnets, shell wampum, carved
pipes, and intricate beading and quillwork. They had a reputation
for peacefulness and hospitality.
Some 500 Penobscot now live on a reservation comprising 4,500
acres at Indian Island, Old Town, Maine.
The Pequod, or Destroyers, once a much-dreaded Algonquian people,
were originally part of the Mohegan tribe. They occupied a strip
of land reaching from what is now New London, Conneticut, into
Rhode Island. The Pequods were conquered by English settlers
in 1637 during the so-called Pequod War. Spurred on by Puritan
preachers who called the Indians "fiends of hell"
and "children of Satan," the settlers stormed the
Pequod village on the Mystic River in Conneticut, slaughtering
and burning to death more than 600 of the inhabitants. Surviving
prisoners became slaves of New England colonists; some were
even sold to West Indian planters. In 1832 there was a remnant
of about 40 mixed-blood Pequods left.
In the early 1900's about 12 people
remained who considered themselves in some way the descendants
of the Pequods and Mohegans. They are now considered completely
The Pima, and their closely related neighbors and cousins, the
Papago, are thought to be descendants of the ancient Hohokam--Those
Who Have Gone Before--prehistoric makers of vast system of irrigation
canals. Members of the Uto-Aztecan language group, the Pima
live in southern Arizona near the Gila and Salt rivers. Their
earliest contacts with Spaniards occurred in 1589, when they
lived in scattered 'rancherias' tending their fields of corn,
beans, squash, cotton, and tobacco. Like their Hohokam ancestors,
they had an advanced system of irrigation. They were consistently
peaceful and hospitable to whites. The typical old-style Pima
house was a windowless daub-and-wattle dwelling shaped "like
an inverted kettle." Today these dwellings have been replaced
everywhere by the typical Southwestern adobe house. The Pima
are possibly the best Indian basket makers. Their women weave
beautiful baskets of all shapes, designs, and sizes, from huge,
man-high storage baskets to miniature horsehair baskets.
Most Pima, together with members
of the Maricopa community, now live on the Gila River Reservation
in Arizona, with headquarters at Sacaton.
The Pomo are a large and thriving community in northern California,
well known for their beautiful basketwork. Ponca: The Ponca,
a Siouan tribe closely related to the Omaha, Kansa, and Osage,
lived in permanent villages of earth lodges. They planted corn,
hunted buffalo, and adoped a number of Plains customs, including
the annual Sun Dance, which they called the Great Mystery Dance.
After several migrations, the Ponca
lived for some time near Lake Andes, South Dakota. There, according
to their traditions, they received the gift of the sacred pipes.
They finally settled at the mouth of the Niobrara River in Nebraska
where, Lewis and Clark reported in 1804, their number had been
reduced by smallpox to a mere 200. For reasons never quite satisfactorily
explained, the Ponca land was given to the Sioux in spite of
the fact that the Ponca had always been friendly to the whites
while the Sioux had fought them. By 1870 their numbers had increased
to about 800 but later, due to the enmity of their Sioux neighbors,
they were removed to Indian Territory in Oklahoma. Half of them
died as the result of their forced removal, malnutrition, and
new diseases against which they had no immunity. A few Ponca
remained behind in Nebraska seeking a home among related tribes.
The Salinans, a California Indian language group, were named
for the Salinas River, which flowed through their territory
in Monterey--San Louis Obispo area. Their native name was Hokan.
In the late 1700's the Spaniards established two missions among
these small tribes. After contact with the Europeans, and especially
after the gold rush, their numbers declined rapidly. Though
they had once been counted in the thousands, by 1906 there were
only 20 persons described as Salinans. The tribe is now practically
extinct. San Juan: San Juan, the home of one of the authors
of this book, is the largest Tewa-speaking pueblo. Located on
the banks of the Rio Grande 25 miles north of Santa Fe, New
Mexico, it is a traditional village in which the old culture,
language, and ceremonies are still maintained in spite of some
intermarriage with whites. Its native name was Oke, but in 1598
the Spanish Govenor Onate established his capital at this pueblo
and renamed it San Juan de los Caballeros. In 1782 the village
was ravaged by epidemics introduced by contact with Spaniards.
Today some 700 Tewa Indians occupy about 12,000 acres of San
The Seneca, meaning Place of the Stone, were one of the tribes
making up the Six Nations League of the Iroquois. They were
also known as the People of the Mountain and in the confederacy
occupied the place of "keepers of the great black doorway."
The great Iroquois religious leader and prophet, Handsome Lake,
was a Seneca. He combined traditional Iroquois religion with
certain white concepts, teaching his people to build houses
like those of white farmers, to work hard, to instruct their
children, and to abstain from the white man's intoxicating drinks.
The code of Handsome Lake is still kept by man Iroquois people.
The Senecas originally lived west of Lake Erie and along the
Allegheny River. Believing that the English would protect them
against land-grabbing colonials, they joined the Mohawks under
Joseph Brant (Thayendanega) to fight for the British during
the American Revolution. they now live in various places in
the Northeast, including the Allegheny, Cattaraugus, and Tonawanda
Reservations in New York State. In the 1950's the Army Corps
of Engineers built the Kinzua Dam, which inundated a great part
of the Allegeny Senica Reservation, in spite of a treaty of
1794, signed by George Washington himself, guaranteeing the
Indians this land inviolate
and in perpetuity.
The Serrano still live in California, though a long history
of contact with white missionaries and other settlers has eroded
their cultural integrity consdieralbly.
The Shasta were a group of small tribes in northern California
near the Klamath River and in the Mount Shasta Valley. They
were sedentary and lived in small villages of half-sunken plank
houses. Their main food was fish, particularly salmon, which
they netted, trapped, and speared. They preserved their fish
for winter by drying and smoking it. Acorns, seeds, and roots
augmented their diet; hunting played a comparatively small role,
and their main weapon was the bow. The intrusion of gold miners
and prospectors in 1855-1860 spelled the Shasta's doom, and
they have now virtually vanished.
The Sia, or Zia, are a small Kersean-speaking pueblo in New
The Sioux nation is comprised of three divisions, the Lakota
or Teton-Wan, the Dakota, and the Nakota. Lakota or Tetons are
the seven westernmost trans-Missouri Sioux tribes; they refer
to themselves as the Ikche-Wichasha--The Real Natural Human
Beings. The Seven Tribes, or Ocheti Shakowin (Seven Campfires),
which compose the Lakota are the Hunkapa, the Oglala, the Minneconjou,
the Brules (also known as Sichangu or Burned Thighs), the Ooenunpa
or Two Kettles, the Itazipcho or No Bows, and the Shiasapa or
Blackfeet, not to be confused with the Algonquian Blackfoot
(Siksika) of Montana. The Lakota are the hard-riding, buffalo-hunting
Plains Indians par excellence, the Red Knights of the Prairie,
the people of Red Cloud, Sitting Bull, and Crazy Horse. Theirs
was the nomadic culture of the tipi and the dog--later horse--travois.
They worship Wakan Tanka--Tunkashila, the grandfather spirit--pray
with the sacred pipe, go on vision quests involving four-day-and-night
fast, and still practice self-torture (piercing) during the
Sun Dance, the most solemn of all Plains rituals. Originally
friendly to the whites, the Lakota fought hard when they were
finally forced to defend their ancient hunting grounds. They
defeated General Crook at Rosebud, and annihilated Custer on
the Little Bighorn. They fought their last battle against overwhelming
odds, and in the face of quick-firing cannon, at Wounded Knee
The Slavey Indians (whose name, incidentally, has no connection
to the English word "slave") lived inland in British
Columbia, and are related culturally and linguistically to the
Plains tribes to the south. Their Plateau region culture, as
it is termed, represents a transition between the northernmost
of the northwest Plains tribes and those of the subarctic. They
still make their living as hunters, fishermen, and trappers
in this economically marginal geographic area, too far north
for much agricultural productivity.
The Snohomish lived in tiny
communities scattered across the Olympic Peninsula in what is
now western Washington. Only remnants of the original tribes
The Snoqualmie or Snoqualmu were a small Salishan tribe of the
Pacific Coast. Salmon was their main food, canoeing their form
of traveling. The men fished and hunted, the women wove baskets
and made mats of cedar bark. They believed they were descended
from mythical animals, such as the wolf. By 1854, the Snoqualmies
had shrunk to a population of some 200. A handful of Snoqualmies
finally went to the Tulalip Reservation in Washington to settle
among their Snohomish cousins.
The Tewa are a group of Pueblo Indians related by language.
Today they live in six villages near the Rio Grande, all north
of Santa Fe, namely, Nambe, Pojoaque, Tesuque, San Ildefonso,
Santa Clara, and San Juan. According to legend, the Tewa entered
this world by ascending from Sipofene, a mythical place beneath
a lake. In some Tewa villages it is said that the people climbed
up a Douglas fir rising out of the lake, and that the first
one up was Poseyemu, the Tewa culture hero, a supernatural being
sometimes called the son of the sun, who taught the art of living
to the people. Ancient beliefs and traditions are still among
the Tewa. Their pueblos are divided into two parts, so-called
moitie, the summer and winter people.
The Tiwa (in Spanish, Tigua or Tiguex) form a Pueblo language
group. Tiwa-speaking villages are the northern Rio Grande pueblos
of Taos and Picuris and the more southern villages of Sandia
and Isleta in the Albuquerque region. The early Spanish explorers
described the Tiwas as cultivating corn, squash, beans, and
melons, and as wearing cotton garments and long robes made of
feathers. The Spaniards plundered and destroyed several Tiwa
pueblos, killing, according to their own chronicler, Castaneda,
every male and enslaving the women and children. It was in Taos
pueblo that the great Pueblo Revolt of 1680 was planned by Pope,
a Tiwa spiritual leader from San Juan pueblo. Taos is the northernmost
of the pueblos, a natural meeting place for Pueblos and souther
Plains Indians. The people of Taos therefore show a number of
Plains traits, such as the braided hair worn by the men.
The Tlingit, the northernmost of the great Northwest Coast tribes,
lived in the numberous villages from Prince William Sound down
to the Alaska Panhandle. Like the Haida, Tsimshian, and Kwakiutl,
they occupied large, rectangular, decorated and painted wooden
houses; fished in big dugout canoes; held potlatches upon the
death and burial of important persons; made war to capture slaves
as well as the booty necessar for giveaways during the potlatch.
The sea provided nearly their entire diet. The Tlingit were
also sculptors and carvers of totem poles, masks, ceremonial
rattles, bowls, and painted boxes. Their women wove the famious
Chilkat blankets and also fine, multicolored baskets. Their
dress was highly decorative, often covered with the images of
eagles and other animals, the outlines formed of round pieces
of pearl shells or buttons acquired from whites. Women wore
ornaments in their lower lips, so-called labrets.
The Tlingit were harshly treated
and exploited by Russian fur traders. Today some 250 Tlingits
live at Craig on Prince of Wales Island in Alaska.
The Toltecs created a splendid civilization in the Valley of
Mexico, their chief cities being Tula and Teotihaucan, the latter
the site of the great Pyramid of the Sun thirty miles northeast
of present-day Mexico City. The Toltec cities, in which must
be included Chichen Itza, the Mayan site in Yucatan once dominated
by the Toltecs, were as much ceremonial centers as they were
populations centers. Traders and artisans, workers in metal,
clay, cotton, obsidian, stone, and feathers, the Toltecs spread
the cult of the gentle god Quetzalcoatl, represented by the
Plumed Rattlesnake, as well as the practice of the ritual ball
game. The Toltecs' empire reached its zenith around A.D. 900
and later declined as a result of foreign and civil wars.
The Tsiimshian, or People of the Skeena River, are a typical
Pacific Northwest Coast tribe, culturally related to the Haida
and Kwakiutl and, like them, artistic carvers and weavers of
the Chilkat blankets. Their main food was salmon, halibut, cod,
and shellfish, and they also hunted whales. Their original home
was on the Skeena River in British Columbia. In 1884 a Church
of England clergyman persuaded them to move to Alaska. About
a thousand Tsimshian now occupy the Annette Island reserve of
86,500 acres in southeastern Alaska and take an active political
and economic role in the state.
The Utes, who belong to the Uto-Aztecan language family, are
a Shoshonean tribe of western Colorado and eastern Utah. They
shared many cultural traits with the more northern Plains tribes;
they performed the Sun Dance and lived in tipis. They acquired
horses in 1740 and ranged from southern Wyoming down to Taos.
The Utes were generally friendly to the whites; their best-known
chief, Ouray, made a treaty of peace and friendship with the
government. He was a welcome guest, as well as a host, among
white silver miners. The Utes now raise cattle for a living.
Some 700 southern Utes live on a reservation of 300,000 acres
at Ignacio, Colorado. The northern Weminuche Utes consist of
some 1,800 people on 560,000 acres on the Ute Mountain Reservation
in Colorado. Still another 1,200 Utes live on the million-acre
Uintah and Ouray Reservation at Fort Duchesne, Utah.
The Wasco (meaning "small bowl of horn") are a Chinookian
tribe of sedentary fishing people living along the banks of
the Columbia River in Oregon. Their food, such as salmon, sturgeon,
and eels, came mainly from the river. They caught salmon in
the spring with dip nets or by spearing, and bartered pounded
and dried salmon with other tribes. During the cold season they
lived in partially underground winter houses with roofs of cedar
bark; in summer they moved to lighter dwellings made of fir
poles. They maintained ceremonial sweat houses, practiced head
flattening, and performed puberty rites for both boys and girls.
The Wasco are famous for their beautiful twined baskets. They
share the Warm Springs Reservation in Oregon with the northern
Paiutes and Warm Springs Indians.
White Mountain Apache:
The Winnebago (from Winipig--People near the Dirty Water), a
Midwestern woodlands tribe, belong to the Siouan family. Among
their deities and supernaturals, to whom they made offerings,
are Earth Mother, Disease Giver, Sun, Moon, Morning Star, Night
Spirit, Thunderbird, Turtle, and the Great Rabbit. The tribe
is divided into two so-called phratries, the upper or air people,
and the lower or earth people. During the War of Independence
and the War of 1812, the Winnebago sided with the British. Between
1829 and 1866, whites forced the Winnebago to give up their
land and go to new homes no less than seven times. Some Winnebago
joined Black Hawk in his war of 1832. They were removed to the
Blue Earth River in Minnesota but were driven from there by
white settlers, who were afraid of Indians after the great Sioux
Today some 800 Winnebago live on
their own reservation in Thurston County, Nebraska.
Wintu refers both to a language group and a tribal community,
several of which still occupy what is now northern California,
above the Bay Area of San Francisco.
The Yakima occupy the high mountain country of eastern Washington
and live on one of the biggest reservations in the northwest.
It is a large and thriving community with a very viable and
The Yavapai, People of the Sun, also known as Mojave-Apaches,
once roamed over a large part of Arizona. A tribe of hunters
and gathereres, they are linguistically and culturally related
to the Hualapai and Havasupai. Nomads in search of wild crops,
their staples were mesal, saguaro fruit, sunflower seets, pinon
nuts, and other wild plants. They also raised corn and hunted
deer and rabbit. They lived in caves or primitive brush shelters
which could be put up in a short time. Their beliefs were shamanistic.
About 700 Yavapais now live on the
Camp Verde and Yavapai Reservations in Arizona.
The home of the Yuma (from Yah Mayo--Son of the Chief) was situated
on both sides of the Colorado River. They were primitive but
effective farmers, growing corn, melons, mesquite beans, and
pumpkins. Onate visited them in 1604-1605 and reported that
they were fine physical specimines. Early Spaniards said of
them: "The men are well-formed, the women fat and healthy,"
and gave the collective name "Dieguenos" to a small
group of Yuma tribes and rancherias near present-day San Diego.
Some 60 Yumans now live on the 600
acre Cocopah Reservation in Yuma County, Arizona.
The Zuni were the first Pueblo encountered by the Spanish. Fray
Marcos de Niza saw the Zuni village from afar. The light adobe
walls glistened like gold in the evening sun, and he reported
back to the Spanish viceroy in Mexico City that he had found
the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola, whose streets were paved
with gold. As a result Don Francisco de Coronado, with a large
party of heavily armed adventurers, appeared in 1540 at Hawikuh
and, on July 7th of that year, stormed and plundered the pueblo.
At the time of their reconquest by the Spaniards in 1692, twelve
years after the Pueblo Revolt, the Zuni fled to one of their
strongholds on top of a high, inaccessible mesa. Eventually
they built one single village on the site of their ancient pueblo
of Halona, and have dwelled there ever since.
Today about 5,000 Zuni live on their
40,000 acre reservation some 30 miles south of Gallup,